Though most locations in the Private Memoirs are genuine, Dalcastle, the place at the novel’s heart, is fictional. Since it takes Lady Dalcastle a day to walk back to her father’s home in Glasgow, we can guess that it lies about 25 miles from the city. Hogg scholars have pondered over a real-world basis for Dalcastle, but it is entirely in keeping with the novel’s major themes that the ultimate location should remain obscure.
At the turn of the 18th century when the novel’s action takes place, Glasgow was burgeoning into the major city it is today. Already a significant trading centre, the establishment of Port Glasgow in 1668 meant that the city was also fast becoming a mercantile and manufacturing stronghold. In 1700, its population stood at around 12,000.
The Reformation was a Europe-wide religious movement triggered by a spiralling resentment of the Catholic Church. Its origins can be traced back to 1517 when Martin Luther pinned his 95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther’s document attacked the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical malpractice of the Catholic Church. Though he began by wanting to reform the church, differences soon proved irreconcilable. The result was a split within Christianity, leading to the establishment of Protestantism.
Other prominent figures within the movement were John Calvin (see note for p. 30) and John Knox. It was the latter who led the Scottish Reformation, culminating in Scotland’s formal break with papacy and the establishment of the Church of Scotland in 1560.
The flaming predestinarian in question is John Calvin. His teachings had a huge influence on the austerity so resented by the laird (and, implicitly, the Editor), but it was perhaps his doctrine of predestination that provoked the most controversy. Calvinism states that God, who has ordained all events in advance, has sovereign control over the ultimate destinies of his creations. Furthermore, as a result of the fallen condition of mankind, nobody is capable of true righteousness and salvation occurs as a result of God’s grace alone. Thus each woman and man is consigned from the start to either divine election or to damnation; their faith and virtue, or lack of, is immaterial.
This refers to Matthew 7:13: “Enter ye in at the strait gate for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” In other words, following the path of God demands a commitment to self-sacrifice.
A reconstruction of a Covenanters' conventicle.
One who lived in the land of Canaan before Moses led the Israelites there and is hence not amongst God’s chosen people.
To read a modern translation of Calvin’s writings on justification by faith, click here
This is a variation of Titus 1:15: “Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure.” Most biblical commentators agree that these lines refer to the distinction between clean and unclean foods made by Judaism. However, they have also been used more controversially by some adherents of Calvinism to justify the idea that Christians are free from moral constraint. Such assertions are not to be met with from Calvin himself. Though he did not believe that salvation was contingent on one’s acts, he did believe that divine grace would naturally inspire good works.
The practice of giving the first-born son the same name as his sire was popular at this time. It stemmed from the custom of making the eldest son the heir to his father’s property; the same name was given in order to ensure that these inheritance rights were duly administered. The legacy George receives from the laird is more than financial: he also inherits his views and lifestyle. It is, of course, significant that Lady Dalcastle’s second child is named after Rev. Wringhim – a fact which can be seen as an acknowledgement of his true paternity.
The biblical patriarch David was the second king of ancient Israel and is traditionally regarded as the author of the Psalms. He is represented as a paradigm of monarchical righteousness, though he was not without his flaws. He was responsible for defeating the Philistines and his slaying of the giant Goliath is one of the best-known stories in the Bible. He also won huge victories over the Moabites, the Arameans, the Ammonites and the Edomites before establishing his kingdom in Jerusalem. According to Nathan the prophet, God decreed that this land was to be ruled over by David and his descendents for all eternity (2 Samuel 7:16).
James Douglas, 2nd Duke of Queensberry, as commissioner to the Parliament of Scotland, was at this time embroiled in the controversy surrounding the potential unification of England and Scotland. Though the session of 1703 referred to here failed to reach an agreement, in 1707 Queensberry procured the signing of the Treaty of Union which was to unite the two countries into the single kingdom of Great Britain. England’s motivation resided in the desire to ensure that royal succession took place along Protestant lines and to forestall the possibility of an independent Scottish monarch forming alliances against her. The Scottish, meanwhile, hoped to access English subsidies in order to recover from the debt they were in and to remove English trade sanctions. With the blending of religious and political motivations, the issue caused temperatures to run high amongst the populace.
Edinburgh in Scotland Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city, is located to the south-east of the country at the mouth of the River Forth. During the 17th century, it was a compact but rapidly-growing settlement. In the years between the Reformation and the Wringhims’ arrival, the population had almost trebled to 45,000 and it was well on its way to becoming the “picturesque, odorous, inconvenient, old-fashioned town” it was during Hogg’s time.
Throughout history, Edinburgh has occupied a prominent position both politically and culturally. It was the seat of the royal court until James VI (I of England) moved down to England, and of the Parliament of Scotland until the Act of Union. It was also the centre of the Scottish Enlightenment, and the number of influential thinkers and writers it produced earned it the name ‘Athens of the North’ during the 18th century.
In Scotland at this time, ‘Whig’ was a derisive term for a radical Presbyterian faction of the Covenanters (see note for page 38). Also known as the Kirk Party, the Whigs opposed the Engagement with Charles I – this being a secret treaty in which the Covenanters proposed a military alliance in exchange for Charles’ agreement to support the establishment of Presbyterianism in England. The Kirk Party’s General Assembly was recognised in Scottish civil law, and their denouncement of the Engagers led to the latter being banned from holding public office. The faction crowned Charles II as monarch in 1651 after the assassination of Charles I. This was done in exchange for his endorsement of the Treaty of Breda (1650), in which he agreed to establish Presbyterianism as the national religion and to recognise the Kirk Party within English civil law. However, as Scotland had by that time been defeated by Cromwell’s army, the treaty was already meaningless.
William Johnstone, 1st Marquess of Annandale, was a Scottish nobleman who opposed the Union though he later served as a representative peer from 1709-13. Here again is a prominent figure associated with a hypocritical crossing of the political divide.
The Canongate is a small district at the heart of Edinburgh. When King David I established Holyrood Abbey in 1128, he gave this area to the Augustine canons which led to its being granted burgh status. Canongate’s relationship with its neighbour, Edinburgh, was highly turbulent and marked by frequent disputes over boundaries until the former was incorporated into the latter in 1856. The area also became the site of the Scottish Parliament when it was established in 1707.